The Rat Race

When Australia passed a parental leave law in 2010, it left the U.S. as the only industrialized nation not to mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns. Most of the rest of the world has paid maternity leave policies, too; Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea are the only other countries that do not.
– from Paid Parental Leave: U.S. vs. The World

It’s only been a month since I last posted, but it feels like ages.  Here’s what’s happening:

On February 10th, at 12 weeks old, Maggie went to daycare and I went back to work.  This is how she looked as we got ready to head out the door:

First day of school!

First day of school!

I was beside myself; I cried that morning as I got her dressed.  I cried on the way to daycare.  I cried when we got there.  I cried when we left.  But this is how we left her that first morning:

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Yeah, she was going to be fine.

It’s been working out ok, but the daycare is out here where we live, and David works 9 hour days to my 8, so it’s been challenging.  At the present, the way our day goes is, we leave together with Maggie.  I drop David off at the Metro, then drop Maggie off at daycare and then go back to the Metro and head to work (the idea being that David gets to work sooner and can leave closer to the time I do).  I leave work at 4:45 sharp to allow for some Metro delays to be sure I can get to daycare no later than 6:30 when it closes (so far, so good; I’ve never been later than 6:15).  Maggie and I go home and then have to go back out to pick David up from the Metro, usually between 7 and 7:30.  It’s this part that I hate the most, because I have to re-wrangle her, and by that time of day, she’s not her best self.  David’s not convinced it’s worth the extra $4.75 a day in parking for us to drive separately; I say it’s a bargain at twice the price not to have to go out again once we’re home.  This is a work in progress.

Now that Maggie’s used to daycare and we have a weekday groove, I can admit that I’m glad to be back to work.  I don’t think I’m cut out to be a stay-at-home mom.  I miss her every day and look forward to picking her up at daycare every night, but this is what’s best for all of us, I think.  I will say, though, that 12 weeks is not enough.  And I was lucky that I could take that much time–even though I had to use all of my vacation and sick time because the federal government doesn’t offer paid maternity leave–many women go back at 8, 6, or even 4 weeks after giving birth.  I wasn’t even a functioning human being 4 weeks after Maggie was born; I cannot imagine being expected to do my job that soon.  That there’s no federally mandated paid maternity leave in this country is a travesty.

We’re still breastfeeding; I pump three times a day at work, which is kind of a pain, but (a) I’m committed to giving her breast milk for a year and (b) it makes the day go by SO fast – basically every time I turn around, it’s time to pump again.  Because I have to leave by 4:45 and try as I might I can’t seem to get to work earlier than 8:30 (which is fine, because that means Maggie’s in daycare 10 or 10.5 hours as it is, which is too much, but it can’t be helped), I don’t take a lunch hour, I just work right through.  It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be – before I went on maternity leave, I ate lunch out basically every day just for an excuse to leave the office for an hour – and it shortens my day by an hour, so it’s worth it. Like much of motherhood, it’s a tradeoff I’m making for benefit of my family.

Daycare wears Maggie out – the constant noise and lights and stimulation – so she sleeps GREAT on daycare days.  We get at least 6 hours her first stretch, and only one middle of the night wake up, which is amazing.  On Saturday and Sunday nights, though, we’re back to her pre-daycare 3- to 4-hour first stretch, with at least two middle of the night wake ups, which is less amazing.  I trust, though, that she will eventually sleep through the night and that, for now, she still needs to eat when she wakes up, even if so many other babies (of women I know online) already sleep through the night.

If there’s one thing I’m learning as I navigate Maggie’s babyhood, it’s that all babies are different and they all do things in their own time.  For example, Maggie is an independent baby and always has been.  Particularly after she eats, I can leave her on her playmat or in her crib or even on her back on the floor and she will happily hang out there, kicking and babbling away, while I eat or shower or catch up on email (for the record, if I’m going to shower, I always put her in her crib; if she’s not in her crib, I’m nearby).  When she’s done entertaining herself and wants attention, she lets me know.  I know lots of people who say their babies want to be held almost non-stop and, to quote one of them, “won’t tolerate” being left alone.  At first, I thought maybe I was doing something wrong for Maggie not to want to be held all the time (seriously, sometimes when she’s crying, all you have to do is put her down on her back and she stops), but I’ve come to realize that’s just her temperament.  Hey, if it works for her, it certainly works for me – it means I don’t have to take her in the bathroom with me like some moms I know say they do!

There’s lots more to tell, but this is already so long.  I’ll just leave you with this picture that shows how far Maggie has come from the days when tummy time was constant crying, followed by putting her head down and just giving up on life.  She still doesn’t last much longer than 5 minutes at a stretch, but look how strong she must be to hold that giant head up!

Tummy time!

Tummy time!

Learning Curve

Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.
– Benjamin Spock

As I write this, we’re somewhere in South Carolina, heading north. We’ve spent the last week traveling down the east coast and now we’re on our way home.

We decided even before Maggie was born that we’d take this trip down to Florida before my maternity leave was over, since I had to use all my PTO for maternity leave and therefore a vacation later in the year couldn’t happen (I earn 6 hours of vacation every two weeks; it’s going to take me months to build up even a week).

I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of traveling 2500 miles with a breastfeeding 10-week-old in tow, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Our plan of attack for driving days has basically been to feed her right before leaving, then drive like hell for 3 hours or until she wakes to eat; stop to feed her and change her and give her 30 or so minutes to stretch her legs; get back in the car and drive like hell; repeat until we reach our destination. I feel bad that she’s spending so much time in the carseat, and on driving days she doesn’t give us the first long night sleep stretch we’ve become accustomed to, but she’s been a real trooper. Usually by the time she just can’t take anymore, we’re pulling in to wherever we’re spending the night.

I’ve become pretty comfortable nursing in public on this trip, too, out of necessity. Before this week, I’d only nursed anywhere besides my breastfeeding group and the nursing room at Babies R Us a handful of times and always with a cover. On this trip, I nursed in the car many times (surprisingly comfortable; I’d never tried it before because I assumed it wouldn’t be), at Epcot about 5 times (only once in their nursing room because, although it was very nice, it wasn’t very centrally located), in the mall, and in numerous restaurants. I still usually use a cover, but twice – both at Epcot – it was too hot under there and Maggie couldn’t get comfortable to focus on eating, so I took it off and just tried to be as discreet as possible. No one said anything, but if they had, I’d have politely told them that my daughter’s need to be fed trumped whatever offense they imagined they were suffering. And for good measure, I checked out the laws on breastfeeding in public in all the states we’d be going through, and in all of them except Virginia, breastfeeding in public is protected (in Virginia, it’s only protected on property owned by the state). I promised David before Maggie was born that I wouldn’t become a “lactivist,” in the sense that I wouldn’t purposefully try to goad people into challenging my right to breastfeed in public to make a point, but I have zero problem standing up for myself (and Maggie) if the opportunity should arise.
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We’re home now. We got back yesterday around 9:30, later than we hoped, but about when we expected. We promised Maggie a carseat-free day today, and I think it will be great for her.

Some other things we learned on this trip:

  • Costco diapers, which are inexpensive and well-regarded by many parents, just aren’t for us.  We had been using Target brand, which also come highly recommended and cost approximately the same, because Maggie was too small for the Costco ones we bought before she was born.  Once she grew into them and we ran out of Target diapers, we started using them.  I do not know why it took us so long – and so many stained, adorable baby outfits – to realize that they are not the best fit for her.  We arrived in Savannah last Saturday night just as Maggie blew out the first diaper of our trip, then another one that night at dinner (this, after at close to two weeks of near-daily leaks), before it finally dawned on us.  We stopped at Target on the way home from dinner that night and were blessedly blow-out free the rest of the week.  David’s at Costco returning the unopened box as we speak.
  • We have everyone fooled. We so often feel like we’re floundering as parents, but everyone else seems to think we’re old pros.  I guess we’ve perfected the art of “fake it til you make it.”
  • We made the absolute right decision for us in putting Maggie in her crib in her own room from day one.  She slept in the same room as us in her Pack-n-Play the whole trip, and while she’s not a terribly noisy sleeper, she *is* a terribly noisy fall-asleeper and wake-upper.  At home, because she’s in the other room and the white noise machine covers some of her crazy grunts and groans, we don’t notice so much so we sleep a little better.  On vacation, we heard everything, and David finally has some sympathy for what I go through overnight (because he was waking up every time she did, which doesn’t usually happen at home).
  • Pro tip: If you want your baby to sleep for seven hours for the first time ever, take her to Epcot for 9.5 hours, where you’ll be required to take her in and out of the stroller a thousand times a day (because they don’t let strollers in many places) and there are a million things for her to see and she will be so worn out by the end of the day that she won’t even notice that you don’t move her from her carseat to the Pack-n-Play.  (As a first-time mom, though, you will be so freaked out that your baby hasn’t woken up to eat that you won’t be able to sleep after hour four or five.  Also, you will be so tired that you won’t bother to get up to make sure the baby’s still breathing.  Probably she is.)

In other news, David and I hardly fought at all on this trip, and when we did disagree or were snappy with each other, we were able to diffuse the situation fairly quickly.  We’re trying to not be so reactive and to communicate better, which I’m hoping will really help us.  So probably I’m not going to end up divorced before my baby is one, which is good.

In other other news, the grapefruit beer at the Germany Pavilion at Epcot is amazing.  Honestly, if I hadn’t been nursing, I might have sent David on his way with the baby and set up camp there and just proceeded to drink my face off.  I’ve Googled and I may be taking a trip to Total Wine today to see if I can find it in the store.

I think that’s all the news for now!

Maggie at Epcot

Maggie at Epcot

Making Your Way

“I didn’t realize babies come with hats. You guys crack me up. You don’t have jobs. You can’t walk or speak the language. You don’t have a dollar in your pockets but you got yourselves a hat, so everything’s fine.”
–Toby Zeigler, The West Wing, “Twenty Five”

So Maggie, my girl, here is the story of your birth:

I had my first contraction at 12:05 a.m. on Sunday, November 17th.  I had another one an hour later and told your daddy that although they were far apart, we might want to start keeping an eye on them.  I had another contraction just before 2, and then I didn’t wake up again for another hour and 45 minutes.  From then on, the contractions came randomly, some 20 minutes apart, some an hour apart.  I didn’t sleep well at all.

By around 11 on Sunday morning, I knew you were on your way.  The contractions were still irregular, sometimes 4 minutes apart, and sometimes 10.  They were so, so painful.  I told Daddy, “If this is just ‘early’ labor, I am in deep trouble.”  I had said all along I wanted to give birth med-free, but I was beginning to doubt my ability to handle the pain.  I think I was trying to come to terms with what I had a feeling was inevitable, that I would need an epidural.

Around 2, Daddy made me go for a walk.  He wanted to see if that stopped the contractions or made them more regular.  We walked for a long time, all around our neighborhood, and we quickly learned that it made the contractions more regular.  I was down to 3-4 minutes apart.  If I could walk through them, they were easier to take than if I stood still, so we tried to keep moving.  We walked through the woods behind our house and found the biggest maple leaf I’ve ever seen.  Daddy picked it up and brought it home with us.

We called the doctor when we got back, but they said it was still too soon to go to the hospital.  I was both glad, because I still harbored hopes (if small ones) of going med-free (and the longer you labor at home, the less likely you are to get pain meds), and mad, because I was in so much pain and just the thought of being in the place where they could take care of me was a relief.

I continued to labor at home; when I sat or rested, the contractions got further apart but they hurt more.  I begged Daddy to just take me to the hospital, but he knew that wasn’t the right thing.  I was freaking out, to be honest. I had convinced myself that this amount of pain was out of the ordinary and that something must be wrong.  We fought, your daddy and me, which I hate, and I cried big, scared tears, but in the end, he calmed me down and convinced me to go for another walk.

By then, the moon was out.  I told you I knew you’d come during the full moon, right?  I only lasted 30 minutes on the walk.  By the time we got back, the contractions were 2-3 minutes apart, and the doctor finally said we could come in.  Daddy loaded up the car with the bags we’d waited to pack until we were fighting, we called your grandparents to tell them you were on your way, and off we went.  I had several contractions in the car that were almost unbearably painful.  I did my best to do the breathing we learned in Lamaze class, and it helped a little, but they were really overwhelming.

Daddy dropped me off at the front of the hospital around 8:15 p.m. and went to park the car.  A nurse came down to take me upstairs, but not before I had three contractions in the lobby while strangers walked by.  Once I got to a triage room, I had to stay on the bed.  The nurses put two monitors on me and asked me a million questions I couldn’t possibly be expected to answer.  Thank goodness Daddy had made it upstairs by then.

Then the nurse wanted to do a cervical check.  She waited until I was between contractions, but it was still the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever felt (but it would soon be topped – stay tuned).  She said she couldn’t get a good “read” on how dilated I was, so she was going to have another nurse try.  That one also sucked, but when she said she thought I was already 5-6 centimeters, I figured it was worth it – that was more than halfway.  They moved me (on the bed – they brought in a wheelchair first, but realized there was no way) to our labor and delivery room at 9:30, where we would spend the next 15 hours.

It was chaos in there.  I was having a hard time focusing on my contractions to breathe through them because of all of the commotion.  They said I needed an IV – we asked for a hep lock or saline lock, still hoping I’d be able to get up and walk through labor.  They said I was dehydrated and needed fluid, I had to have the IV.  The nurse whose job it was to stick me was the worst, like she’d never tried to do this on someone in labor before.  At one point, she was trying to stick me, the OB on call was about to do a cervical check, my nurse was pressing the monitor into my belly trying to locate your heartbeat, and I was having a contraction.  I shouted for everyone to stop touching me, at least until the contraction was over.  Poor Daddy was trying his best to advocate for me, but there were just so many people in there and they were all talking to me and I couldn’t hear them all at once and they didn’t seem to care.

The OB finally did her cervical check and I thought I was going to die.  I have never felt pain like that before.  I was screaming and trying to scoot up the bed away from her hand and sobbing, begging her to stop.  She couldn’t feel what she needed to because I couldn’t be still.  She came to my side and said, very kindly, “If you are having this much trouble tolerating the cervical check, I really, really recommend that you get an epidural.”  I protested that cervical checks aren’t necessary and couldn’t we just go without and she said no.

I knew I was sunk.  The anesthesiologist came in to talk to us.  He asked us about our concerns and reassured me about each of them.  I really can’t adequately convey the amount of pain I was in.  I knew there was no way I could labor like that for much longer, but I was so conflicted about accepting the epidural.  I asked Daddy if he’d be disappointed in me if I got it and he, of course, said no.  I relented.  The process of the epidural itself was something else altogether – imagine having to try to stay relaxed and still while contractions wrack your body.  Our nurse, Emma, was my lifesaver here.  I leaned my forehead on her chest, she put her hands on my shoulders, and spoke right into my ear, telling me what to do and how to stay calm.  It was painful, but I tried to focus on the fact that at the end of it, I’d have relief and maybe even be able to sleep.

The epidural took about 20 minutes to fully take effect, but when it did – wheeeeeeeee! My whole lower body was numb and tingly.  I could still tell when a contraction was happening, but it was basically painless.  The nurse put my catheter in and my water broke shortly after that, around 10:45.  When the doctor came back to check me again around midnight, it was like a walk in the park compared to the first time.  Turns out I was only 4 centimeters, so they basically turned out the lights and left us to labor in peace, since they expected it to take about 6 hours to get to 10 centimeters.  I was so relieved to be out of pain; I was already exhausted and looking forward to resting.

My parents showed up around 1 a.m.  I offered them the keys to our house so they could get some sleep, but they opted to stick around.  Papa went to sleep in the car and Grandma stayed in the room with us.  Daddy pulled out the chair that turned into a bed and we both tried to sleep.  I was able to rest fairly well, but I’m not sure I ever really fell asleep.  Around two, the OB checked me and I was only 5 centimeters, but two hours later, I was up to 8.  I figured we’d be ready to go around 6, but I was still not complete by then, so they had me “labor down,” which means to use gravity (by sitting more upright in bed) to help move you into position.

At some point, I started to get severe right lower back pain.  It was excruciating, particularly during contractions, and changing positions did nothing to help.  They called the anesthesiologist to give me what they called a “bolus” of epidural medicine, something a little different than what was in my drip, that would take the edge off the pain.  When the anesthesiologist arrived, he asked me some questions to determine what kind of pain I was having.  Apparently whatever I answered made him think I might be ready to push, so he held off on the bolus and instead told me to push the button on my epidural to release more medication.  Shortly after that, the OB determined that I wasn’t far enough along to push, and I was still having the back pain, so a different anesthesiologist came and gave me the bolus.  I remember wondering if it was too close in time to the button pushing, but when I asked about it, they said it was fine.  I was immediately nauseous, though, from the combination of medicines, and spent a good five minutes vomiting.  Since I’d had nothing to eat for the last 13 or 14 hours, couldn’t sit up completely, and was utterly exhausted, it was a really terrible 5 minutes.

Finally, around 8:45 or so, the doctor determined I was complete and ready to push.  Grandma and Papa headed to the waiting room, Daddy came back from getting breakfast (he hadn’t eaten anything except the graham crackers he managed to pilfer from the clear liquids room since lunchtime the day before), and the nurses explained to me just what to do.  This is where the epidural both came in handy and was a bit of a problem.  One the one hand, because of the medicine, pushing did not hurt.  Don’t get me wrong: It was HARD work, but it was not painful.  On the other hand, because of the medicine (and likely exacerbated by the bolus and the last button push being so close to the time I started to push), I couldn’t feel if I was pushing in my bottom, the way the nurses said, so my first several rounds of pushes were not that effective.  I knew when I needed to push, because I could feel the contractions start in the bottom of my left ribs and in my right hip bone, and I could hold my breath and bear down, but I couldn’t be sure I was focusing my pushing quite where it needed to be.

This is also where I needed pitocin.  I’d hoped to avoid it, but for whatever reason, when it was time to push, my contractions went from 1-2 minutes apart to about 6 minutes apart.  I asked if we could forgo the pitocin.  The nurses said yes, but said it would make labor that much longer – probably 4 hours of pushing.  Given that I’d basically been up for nearly 36 hours at this point, was starving, and really just anxious to meet you, Daddy and I agreed on the condition that they start me on the lowest dose possible.  That worked out pretty well, though they did need to turn up the drip a little throughout the pushing.

As I said, pushing was hard work; I was getting four and sometimes five pushes per contraction, but because of the epidural, the early ones weren’t that effective.  As it started to wear off a bit, I became more aware of where I was focusing my energy and I got better at it.  Daddy was right there by my side the whole time, holding my head and encouraging me.  Towards the end, he could see you coming out and he just broke down crying.  I was watching his face, and during my last three or so pushes, we locked eyes and were crying together, me while trying to hold my breath.

I remember feeling like you must be super close to coming out, but I couldn’t be sure.  All of a sudden, the doctor yelled, “Melanie, open your eyes!” and I looked down, and she pulled you out and then you were crying and Daddy and I were crying and I was laughing.  I reached out for you and they put you on my chest and Daddy and I just cried and laughed.  Then, I was holding your bottom and I felt something warm and wet, and I sort of shouted through laughter, “I think she peed on me!”  And the nurse said, “And pooped!”  And I did not care.  The nurses rubbed you down and put a hat on you.  They asked Daddy if he wanted to cut your cord and God bless him, he remembered to ask if it had stopped pulsing first, so at least that one thing went the way we hoped.  He cried while he did it, and then he cried some more when he held you for the first time.  There was lots and lots of crying, by all three of us.  You were here, you were safe, and you were ours.

There’s more after all of this — meeting Grandma and Papa, what happened when the pediatrician said you had to go to the NICU, 12 days home already — but that’s the story of your birth.  You took a long time to get here, both literally and figuratively, but Daddy and I knew you’d be worth the wait.  We love you times infinity, little girl.

Maggie at 6 days old

Maggie at 6 days old

The Pull of the Moon

And the pull of the moon will be shared by you and the ocean and the minds of wild things.
– from The Pull of the Moon, by Elizabeth Berg

I knew my girl would make her way into the world during a full moon.  I don’t know why, but I did.  At 12:05 a.m. on Sunday morning, the day the full moon would rise, I had my first contraction.  By the time the moon was high in the night sky, we were on our way to the hospital.  I labored overnight while the moon shined outside the window, and Margaret Diane was born at 10:28 a.m. on Monday, November 18th.

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15 Weeks

You are the closest I will ever come to magic.
– from The Zygote Chronicles, by Suzanne Finnamore

No, that’s not how long it’s been since I’ve posted here, but I don’t blame you if that’s the first thing you thought of when you saw the title.

It’s how long this little one’s been making his or her home in my belly!

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You guys, we are over the moon.  Terrified, too, but mostly really, really thrilled.  I’m due November 24 – a Thanksgiving baby!  There is SO much to do and learn and figure out that we are, honestly, a bit overwhelmed, but we’re taking it a little at a time, and hopefully it will all get done, learned, and figured out.

This is the most profound – and weirdest – thing that’s ever happened to me. By weird, I just mean mind-boggling, really.  Like, it blows my mind thinking about what’s happening in there, and how in less than six months there’s going to be a new person in the world.  I never use the word miraculous, but when I think about everything that’s happening biologically, I think miracle is exactly the right word. Or, you know, magic.